I’m practicing household surrealism as I work towards fine art exhibits later this year. Ordinary objects and plants are sources of inspiration.
Here’s a few sketchbook pages in which I’m playfully combining hats and plants.
Below are some primrose flowers a friend gave us. They sat on my table and I drew them and photographed them.
The flowers eventually became part of a hat in an acrylic painting I’ve titled “Of Sense”.
In my new series of artworks for exhibits at Burnt Bridge Cellars and Caplan Art Designs I’m using a bit of collage. The collage elements come from my old falling apart copy of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
I replaced that old Austen book with a newer intact copy. I’m enjoying my Austen collection. Just like a writer constructs a bibliography for a book being written I tend to have a bibliography behind my fine art exhibits. Jane Austen’s prominent in this year’s art bibliography … I plan to talk more about that in coming posts.
My sketchbooks also reveal what’s on my mind – and I’ll post pages from them too. My sketchbook pages in this post have quotes about dealing with emotions. Jane Austen’s work is about emotions and the social comedy of dealing with ones own emotions or reading the emotions of other people. So I’ve been thinking about that…
My most recent published sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” is a prequel to my current sketchbook and fine art series. You can see it here. Spoiler alert: it’s lots of drawings about books and cultivating one’s mental life.
It’s nothing new for me to be as fully my odd self as possible – in fact I’m doing this as I work towards my new fine art exhibits – but I saw this image below on Austin Kleon‘s Instagram – and I thought heck yes. So I’m going to continue to be odd with household things for a while as I contemplate emotional health and Jane Austen out loud – so to speak.
If you haven’t seen Austin Kleon’s books, blog or newsletter it’s worth a look.
My recent children’s book “This Rabbit” has been read over 11 thousand times on Storyberries.com as of this writing! Wow! Thank you! 🤗 And yes, I plan to make more kids books … as one of my followers you’ll be the first to know. But for a while there’ll be odd household surrealism from me in this space and I hope you enjoy it.
See you next Monday? Stay weird and know that you’re loved by the universe.
I’m amazed at how easy it can be to change one’s perception and be inspired. For example I took these yellow lemons and set them next to a grey and cream cookie jar. Suddenly I have a color scheme I hadn’t thought of before.
The randomness of all the creative stimuli in the world can feel a bit chaotic. Making links between stimuli can be a puzzle. The challenge is devising methods to sift through the chaos to find the nuggets of inspiration that are relevant to our lives and our personal forms of creativity.
One way I find focus – or links – is to think about what I enjoy. For example hot beverages and books are reliable enjoyments for me so I often use that as a focal point when exploring color schemes, patterns or shapes.
Here’s an original drawing playing with colors using the books and beverages topic:
Then, later, after I’ve chosen a focal point and created a drawing I’m pleased with, I find ways to take my original drawings and make something that might add to the random pleasures in the world.
My entire creative process is a way of talking, listening and actively participating in the world.
Here’s what I did with the above original ink and gouache drawing of hot beverages and books: I made a fabric pattern of it for my Spoonflower shop.
Yes, much of my artistic inspiration comes from my personal life. Below is one of my favorite hot beverages. I wrote the recipe in my sketchbook. A sketchbook is where I do a lot of my sifting through my thoughts and making links.
And here’s some random books I’ve been reading this week:
The Norton Reader 6th edition is a book of essays, a wide ranging freewheeling collection of essays. I like it for it’s oddness this way – most essay collections are more narrowly focused. This book was given to me back in the late 1980’s by one of my literature professors. I had gone to the professor’s office during the appointed office hours but just after I arrived the professor got a phone call. Those were the days of phones connected by cords, lines and an absence of answering machines. While my professor took the call I sat next to a table with books on it and picked up The Norton Reader. By the time my professor finished the call I had read several of the essays. The professor asked if I liked the book, I replied that I did, and she gave me the book to keep. I have read the book multiple times since those college days and this book currently lives in a place of honor on my dining room shelf with my poetry and short story book collections. It has influenced my creative thinking in ways too numerous to list here.
The other 3 titles in the stack of books in the photo below are all books that I similarly encountered randomly:
Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane was a recent gift, sent by mail, from a friend. I love a good mystery novel and this one is gripping. I’ve almost finished my first reading of it and …wow. Just. Wow. I had never heard of this author till my friend mentioned and sent the book! I’m grateful to my friend…
Given Sugar Given Salt is a book of poems by Jane Hirshfield. I love the way Hirshfield examines little things, small objects like buttons or our habits or ways we sleep. This book (along with Mary Oliver’s work) has been an influence on my own love of little things.
The Blank Canvas by Anna Held Audette is a big “you can do this” support system even though the book is small in size. I dip into it often when I need a little pick-me-up.
All of the books in the above photo were gifted to me. I relish the randomness the book-as-gift adds to my creative life!
I thought a lot this week about those yellow lemons and that grey color together. And about hot beverages. The weather here has been cold, rainy, which makes hot beverages even more pleasant. Here’s what I drew exploring the yellows and greys:
This week I’ll probably do the digital hocus pocus to turn my grey and yellow cups drawing into a pattern repeated on fabric. (This process will be much like what I described last post.)
My other technique for creative focus – for finding links – is to ask myself what would feed my good wolves today?
Then I think of art topics and creative projects that encourage my own thinking towards kindness and the other good-wolf attributes. And provide amusement and comfort.
For example here’s an ink and gouache painting I’ve titled “The Fall Collection”
And here’s another ink and gouache painting I’ve titled “Anyone Bring Cups?”
In both of these paintings – in addition to yellow, grey, leaves, lemons and cups (sortof) to link my thoughts together – I used a bit of text as collage along with my ink and gouache. The text is from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I had a much used copy of that title that has pages falling out so my spouse gifted me with a newer intact copy. So I’m lovingly recycling the old falling apart book into my fine art and my perception of Austen’s writing is shifting in nice ways as I do this.
I’m sure you noticed in the paintings that in addition to my use of yellows, greys, leaves, lemons I also used my current “everyman” characters in the form of rabbits.
As I describe in my last post I use techniques for writing as my guide towards creative thinking. In these paintings and in my fabric pattern designs I am following both pieces of advice given to writers: “write what you know” plus “write about what you want to know“. I am also imitating mystery genre writers who use the same characters and themes with subtle variations over multiple books.
Randomness and changing ones perceptions are such fun creative tools to play with! I hope you’ll enjoy some pleasant randomness this week too.
My new exhibit this year is titled “Dear Readers” and is book/reading themed. As I’ve worked this last year towards this new one-person fine art exhibit at Burnt Bridge Cellars, that will open June 7 in Vancouver WA, I’ve written lots of hand-written notes in my sketchbooks, on random slips of paper, on post-it notes in the margins of newspaper articles. I wrote down as many thoughts as possible – including quotes from books I’ve read – and kept them together in a binder. When it came time to write my exhibit statement I could reread all of my notes and pull from them.
Here’s a pic of my binder and one of my sketchbooks. And my pen.
Below is the finished “Dear Readers” art exhibit statement – text I wrote that pulled from the data pool in my binder and sketchbooks. This statement will be put on the wall somewhere within my exhibit:
By Sue Clancy
I’ve been thinking about the interconnectedness of everything in life. These thoughts led me to the concept of nested ideas; how one thing leads to another, one food or drink pleasure can lead to another new pleasure in a similar way that one enjoyed book can lead to another new book.
I’ve also thought of how much the written word in general has enhanced our pleasure in and understanding of the sensual world by enabling connections to be made between elements and people across time and space.
So, in this exhibit I’m using the printed-and-bound book as a symbol for “the written word” in its myriad of formats. And I’ve deliberately, whimsically, played with the one-thing-leads-to-another-everything’s-connected concept by including spoofs of my own artwork, my still life paintings, within my other paintings that have dog characters in them. The titles of the still life paintings, the titles of the dog character paintings, the titles of the humans with pet’s paintings all correlate.
Each artwork in my exhibit is related in some way to at least one other artwork in this exhibit. I leave it for you to puzzle out which is connected to which – and in what way.
And yes, you can read my exhibit like you would a mostly wordless comic.
I’ve been thinking about how reading books is similar to playing dominos or sharing a meal with friends. In all of these activities we practice cooperating with others and peaceably bringing forth the world together.
Here’s a limerick poem I wrote and illustrated that playfully reflects my thoughts:
original poem and illustration titled “There Once Was A Tom Cat…” by Clancy
This poem and illustration somewhat relates to my nested-ideas concept that I’m working with for my upcoming fine art exhibit. And this poem (along with others) could become an artist book to accompany my exhibit but I’m still playing around and not sure where all of this is going. This is one of the things I like about being an artist; getting to practice being flexible, playing and letting things unfold as they will.
Kind of like reading a novel, playing a game or sharing a meal with friends allows us to practice “letting things unfold…”.
On a technical note: To create the above poem and illustration I used pen and ink and gouache on a greyish off white handmade paper. It looks sharp in real life, and the paper is a dream to work on, but the scan accented the grey color of the paper more than the naked eye perceives in person. The scan looks good enough, I’m not unhappy … however, note to self; use white paper for things that will be scanned and leave this lovely greyish handmade paper for fine art stuff that will be photographed and not scanned.
I spent the most “looking-for-a-recipe-to-cook” time with Vollstedt’s cookbook “The Big Book Of Soups And Stews” as it was a cold weekend. Plus a hearty stew puts me in a happy “comfort food feast” frame of mind. But the most “just admiring a cook book” time was spent with Katzen. However I did use one of Katzen’s salad recipes to go alongside a stew. I love the way Katzen hand lettered her recipes and illustrated them in her “Moosewood Cookbook”. My poetry time was divided between Edward Gorey and Edward Lear.
This concept of mashing up wildly different genres as inspiration to make something new? Well Austin Kleon has written wonderful creative thinking technique books about that – specifically Steal Like An Artist!
Anyway I combined my big pot of stew thoughts with the limerick poem form for this poem I wrote and illustrated below – which has been published now on They Draw & Cook.
I’m still practicing combining India ink and gouache – and doing text with a brush. I used a smaller size brush this time for the type – and all lower case letters. This brush-and-ink type style felt looser, more relaxed, than the type I did with a fountain pen for the birthday card – though both projects use a similar lower case. I like both methodologies and will probably use both techniques as they fit with the project at hand. But this brush style… I’m liking it and am finding my hand reaching for a brush more often.
Some time back I read an article in my local newspaper about teaching kids to snack healthy and to learn to trust their body’s cues about food. Since then I’ve been thinking of similarities between healthy snacking habits and developing a healthy creative life.
Teach yourself how to recognize aesthetic cues/desires – and practice responding to them – over time. I think of aesthetic cues as mental indulge-ments; things like stories, poems, movies, music, art etc. that make you feel glad to be alive. Just like a kid has to learn how to try new foods and then practice recognizing what foods they enjoy eating. As we go through life our aesthetic preferences change – just like our food preferences do. So it’s helpful to continue to try new aesthetic/art snacks periodically – and practice trusting your own cues.
Allow yourself to listen to your own aesthetic cues/voice without input from other people. This takes practice and no matter how experienced a person is one has to remember to return to listening to one’s own voice – rather like how sometimes a kid (or an adult) has to be reminded to pay attention to their plate and eat. (When my wife and I go to happy hour with our friends I have to remind myself to eat…I tend to focus on the conversation…)
Give yourself permission to just practice. Practice-an-art-materials can be as simple as keeping a book of stories or poems handy for reading and a small book to write in. Think of it as adult playing. Some helpful mantras: “Nothing has to go right today”, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.” and “It’s okay to make mistakes and messes – it’s part of how we learn.”
Set specific times to practice. These can be very short bursts of time. They can be event/circumstance based rather than clock based. i.e. I’ll practice reading/writing poems while the coffee/tea brews, the water boils or the oven pre-heats.
Create a small place/drawer where your practice-an-art materials are kept handy. Perhaps a shelf where books related to your art snack indulge-ments are stored. Look for and collect objects, events, places that feed your creative-soul-heart-mind. Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive. Plan to indulge in these things in small ways – daily.
Set a habit (I hate the word “rule”) for what time per month you’ll indulge yourself – for an aesthetic “meal”, something more than a short snack – with someone else’s artwork: i.e. go to local art-openings, poetry/story slams, indie film nights, music jam nights or a visit to an art museum.
Here’s what I indulged myself with this morning as an art snack while my breakfast bread toasted:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats is a new-favorite poem. It reminds me that we can – and do – create our own solace.
Around the edges of doing a cat portrait commission and Chef Carosi’s illustrated recipe I’ve done some wine label artwork to be used by Burnt Bridge Cellars for their 2018 Holiday Wine. To meet the winery’s request for art that was “festive but not religious” I used 5 writing techniques along these lines to generate visual art ideas:
Freewriting: I wrote and doodled in my sketchbook concepts that called to my mind a social festive season not attached to religion. This also meant writing down the religiously associated concepts so as to avoid them!
Listing: I wrote a list of items one would buy when planning a casual social event. I doodled some of the items too. I also looked up some event-planning websites and went to a local party store and browsed – adding to my list.
Clustering: I selected a verb/adverb from my free-write or a verb related to an item from my list and wrote further associations that came to mind when thinking of that word.
Thesaurus/Dictionary/Encyclopedia/Google: I looked up words like “party”, “festival”. I looked up historical references to past well-known holiday parties. I read poetry that mentioned parties or was associated with the Holidays. (Twas the Night...) I thought of, and researched, holiday fashions such as the “ugly sweater”.
Consider the Audience/Project Purpose: After I had done the above 4 techniques, in a wild free-wheeling way, I looked at what I had written/doodled from the point of view of the Burnt Bridge Cellars winery and what they wanted to accomplish with the label art during the Holiday season.
Then I created several images based on the above brainstorming sessions:
Cat A List by Clancy
“Celebrate!” by Clancy
Then I sent the above artwork in for the winery owners consideration.
Here below is the artwork they chose and how it looked on the bottles:
The winery was pleased with my work – and has said that their customers were too! (Whew!)
The Holiday Wine inside the bottles is very good (I’ve tasted it!) and I feel like I got to participate in a collective effort to add enjoyment to people’s Holiday Season! What fun!
P.S. I originally got the idea to use writing techniques when generating visual art ideas from reading a book by Umberto Eco titled “Confessions of a Young Novelist“.
It’s been my experience that one’s reading is the fertile soil from which all other creativity grows. So I find books like this one, “1000 Books To Read Before You Die” by James Mustich, an essential art studio tool.
The Mustich title is especially useful as it’s more like a restaurant guide than most “read-this” books; the suggested titles are sorted alphabetically by author, there are readable book note details about the genre/subject, when it was written, and other notable works by the author are listed. A “further reading” section about the author’s life and work or on the book’s subject is included. There’s a “try this” section listing other books by other authors suggested for the reader if they enjoyed the featured book. Helpfully “adaptions” of the featured title are also noted: films, plays, musical compositions and audio books. Hints are given whether you could read the book “in a sitting” or not. There is also a section of Mustich’s book that lists books sorted by genre/section: my favorites (so far) are “Lol”, “Mysterious Matters”, “Soul Food” and “Animal World”.
I find all of this pre-sorted book sorting helpful by making it easier to find books related to my creative topic. For example I’ve been reading books about objects lately since I’ve been doing some still life paintings. So yes, that has meant reading Marcel Proust and John Ruskin among other authors.
One of my favorite things to do is sit for an hour or so before bed and read with my beverage of choice handy. If you follow my Instagram page occasionally I post what I’m reading and what I’m drinking. While it looks (and often feels) like pure indulgence I’d say that my time spent reading is one of the most important things I do to develop and maintain my creativity.
Anyway, here’s a photo of the book by Mustich – alongside one of my favorite wines by Burnt Bridge Cellars. And, don’t worry, I was sharing the bottle of wine with my wife… 😉
1000 Books To Read Before You Die by James Mustich
BTW, a local newspaper had a wonderful interview with James Mustich about what books did and didn’t get included in his “1000….”. Oh, and here’s a link to a local bookstore for more info about the book itself.
There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief. And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.
It’s genre bending/blending.
So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way. When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed. These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)
In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:
Near Forest Park – by Clancy – 22 x 30 inches – acrylic and gouache on handmade paper
Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.
“A Novel Morning” – by Clancy – 24 x 18 – acrylic and gouache on board
A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.
“Good Morning” – by Clancy – 11 x 17 inches – acrylic and gouache on board
Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.
What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?
Oh I’ve had an excellent question asked of me! Here’s the question: “Do you keep separate sketchbooks for different subjects/projects/media or do you use one sketchbook for all sorts of art experiments and ideas?”
My answer: I used to keep one sketchbook but I found it hard to find the bit of research I needed because I’d have to flip through the whole book to find something. Now I keep sketchbooks by topic.
Here is one of my “kitchen sketchbooks” – recipe inspired art – where I am inspired to draw by a recipe I’m cooking. This book is 5 x 4 inches in size, sewn binding and paper that can handle ink and water-media. This way my favorite recipes are all in one spot – and when I have an ingredient I can flip through this one book to find a recipe that I know works and that my family likes. This sketchbook, additionally, is my “testing ground” for ways to combine food, drink and art together – ways to interpret food/drink artistically. This sketchbook is also a place where I’ll try new-to-me art media or methods. I’ve been trying gouache lately and I posted a few pages from this book the other day https://sueclancy.com/from-my-kitchen-sketchbook/ – Here’s what the outside of my current kitchen sketchbook looks like:
I have been working on a new series of fine art paintings with Cats as the main characters. So I have one sketchbook that collects my cat related painting practice and research. In it I’ve been studying cat shapes and experimenting with lines, colors. I’ve also experimented with combinations of collage, ink and water-media. This sketchbook is called “Various Cat Sketches” and is 8.5 x 11 in size, with a sewn binding. Here, below, is what the outside of it looks like. I’ll post more of it’s pages on this blog soon because it will contribute to an upcoming fine art exhibition
Another current sketchbook is my “Running Around Loose” book. This is the sketchbook that fits in my small go-sketching bag and is 3 x 5 inches, with a sewn binding, water-media ready paper in a landscape format. In this book I record my observations of the world around me; places I go, people I see, food or drink I have. It could easily be called a travel sketchbook but I call it my “running around loose” book because that’s what I try to do as I run around town with this book – be loose and free with my lines, colors and thoughts. Here, below, what this book looks like. I’ll post more of it’s pages here too. (I’ve posted my last sketchbook like this as an ebook titled “Glad To be Alive” available for download here)
And the 4th topical sketchbook is called “The Forked Tale: thoughts about creative life”. This one is a hardback book 6 inches tall by 8 inches wide and over an inch thick. In it I’ve collected my thoughts, readings, quotes etc. about this business of being creative. I’ve shown pages from this book to friends before who enjoyed it and found it helpful. But recently my friend Liesl was over for dinner and asked me a question about art-studio furniture. We kept talking about aspects of living a creative life and eventually I got out this book and shared it with her. She very strongly encouraged me to publish this book. So I will. After all she’d brought a very good wine to dinner. Here, below, what the outside of this sketchbook looks like.
Yes, this method of sketchbook keeping helps me to organize and find things but keeping topical sketchbooks is also helpful when I only have a short span of time to work. I can select a topic and can get right to it because I don’t have to wonder what topic to paint/work on.
Thanks for the question! I’d not thought to do a blog post outlining this method of mine before!